Every now and then, it's good to take a step back - all the way back, away from the glowing screens, away from the terminal emulators, all the way to the forest. I've tried this exercise every now and then and recommend it: get out to where you're not the most common life form for a mile radius, let the sunshine and fresh air wash over you, and take a deep breath with your eyes closed.
Now ask yourself, "Even if we win all of our battles, how much will the world really change?"
Even amongst those tech pundits whom I look up to - a rare esteem only given to a few - I hear these same bogus ideas going around. They're not stupid or anything, they're just ways of looking at things that seem frozen in one shape. Such as...
Comparing ourselves to corporations. Every sentence that begins "If Linux wants to win the desktop, it has to..." Linux actually doesn't want anything - not even a sandwich. That's because Linux is not a corporation. It does not have a CEO, stockholders, board of directors, a mission statement, or even a headquarters. An easy shot is to go "If Linux were a company, it'd be in the red ink." Yes, if the avant-garde art movement were a company, it'd be in trouble too. What's your point?
Comparing ourselves to average users. Linux makes sense to us because we're the kind of people who seek it out. Me, even before I knew Linux existed, I was seeking it. I was thinking, "There must be an operating system that lets the computer be a tool, instead of being a gaming system or a typewriter." If Linux hadn't been invented, something exactly like it would have been invented in its place. That effect even has its own name - it's called steam engine time. But the people who want Linux will come to us eventually, even if we actively discourage them. Other people just don't have that yen.
Thinking we're the only group up against an oppressive corporate monopoly. While we're all carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, has anybody stopped to think about the people championing a cause against monopolies in other industries? Boy, they must have an even harder time raising awareness. Like the way Monsanto runs the food industry, the way De Beers runs the diamond industry, the way Walmart is rapidly becoming the only store in every American small town, the way FOX News has become the only channel playing on the TV in every employee breakroom, and even duopolies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. And here's a fun game you can play at home - grab the nearest object right now and check where it's made. Is it made in China? Instead of asking "Why do consumers tolerate a monopolized operating system market?" we should be asking "Why do monopolies happen - period?"
Thinking that ignorance is a unique plague of technology. We all get tired of hearing people blubbering "I barely know how to turn a computer on!" But just remember, the professionals in every industry labor against the same soul-crushing apathetic ignorance every day. For every doofus who downloads a virus, there's also an inept driver tying up traffic, an ignorant voter who plays the voting machine like it was Keno, a superstitious gambler getting cleaned out by a Big Six wheel in Vegas, a clueless parent who puts all their kids on Ritalin whether they need it or not, a careless cat owner who lets their pet breed the next population bomb instead of having her fixed, an incompetent doctor prescribing a quack remedy, and an obese person whose clogged arteries are going to kill them as soon as they finish wolfing down that triple-bacon greaseburger. Instead of asking "How do we cure technological illiteracy?" we should be asking "How do we just cure general stupid?"
Thinking that what we read online is what the public thinks. There's a wonderful world where astroturfers, shills, and trolls have yet to invade - outside! When you talk to people in day-to-day life, you are reminded of just how much of the online dialogue is irrelevant everywhere else. Offline, people really are more receptive to the political ideals of open source. Just remember, if online opinions meant anything in real life, we'd have President Ron Paul and Vice President Sarah Palin right now and "Never Gonna Give You Up" would be our national anthem.
Overestimating the importance of new users. It's all about the conversion rate, isn't it? You know what else matters? Actually supporting people once they do convert so they don't flip back. Or how about paying attention to the users who were here all along? Funny, a clueless user says "But compilers scare me!" and Linux pundits fall all over themselves going "Quick! Delete the compilers!" but veteran users like me complain "What if I need those tools to build something? I'm going to have to go to BSD where I'm able to work." and all I'm hearing is "Fine! Go!" Keep it up, all you'll have left is a community composed entirely of first-week users while all the salty veterans took their skills elsewhere.
Underestimating the importance of corporate support. The adored and esteemed Caitlyn Martin has a post up touching on this very subject: "Linux and UNIX have held a majority share of the server room for over a decade. Linux is very competitive in embedded devices." Really, so what if Joe Sixpack doesn't like Linux? Joe Sixpack can spend his welfare check somewhere else. Linux goes to work. Google likes Linux. Doesn't that say something about whether you've won the war for superior technology, when Google chooses you?
Thinking that freedom is as important to other people as it is to us. This is a really, really sad thing to realize, but in fact there's people out there who just can't wait to get rid of what freedom they have and don't want any more. Not just in technology, but everywhere. There's people staying in abusive relationships because they're afraid to be alone, people staying in depressing dead-end jobs because they don't believe they can do better for themselves, and whole countries who managed to fall under a dictator and go "Well, at least the trains run on time!"
There, wasn't that a refreshingly different way of looking at things for a change? No, I'm not right about everything. But how can you know whether your view of an issue is right or wrong until you've looked at it from all sides?
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